Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1, p.15P.D. Workman
GABRIEL FELT SOMEONE WATCHING him and looked up from his schoolwork to see Heather standing in the doorway. He had been so lost in thought that he had completely lost track of time, and it took a minute to reorient himself. He could hear a kid’s show playing on the television, so the younger kids were home from school now. He couldn’t smell supper cooking yet, so it was still late afternoon or early evening.
Heather looked concerned, and Gabriel wondered whether he had been talking to himself or had an absence seizure. “Uh—hi. Sorry… I was thinking.”
“Making any headway on that homework?”
Gabriel looked down at it. He had only written the first couple of lines of his essay. “No, not much. I got sort of… distracted.”
“That can make it difficult! Let me know if you need any help with anything.”
Gabriel wasn’t sure why he would do that. She had already made it clear that she wasn’t up to helping him with high school homework.
“It was nice to see your friend Renata,” Heather said casually.
“Yeah. I was surprised. Didn’t know that she was coming.”
“I’m on a number of foster care email lists and newsletters.”
“Uh… yeah? That’s nice.”
“They send out alerts, you know. When there is a missing child in the area. If a foster child runs away, sometimes a former foster parent knows where to look for them and can help out.”
“Oh.” Gabriel touched his pen to his paper like he was going to write more of the essay. But he couldn’t even remember what the essay was supposed to be about. He just looked at the tip of his pen touching the paper. He could feel Heather’s eyes still intent on him.
“Renata is a runaway. It’s too bad we didn’t know that when she showed up here. But I kind of wondered what was going on. Didn’t you?”
“You guys hadn’t planned to meet…?”
“Last time I saw her, she was still in hospital. We didn’t know when she would be getting out. I don’t exactly have a phone or any other way to contact her. Or anyone else.”
“If you want to call someone, just let me know. You can borrow one of the cell phones. But there are certain people that you are not allowed to call.”
“Like my mom?” Gabriel looked up from his paper, not able to ignore the feeling of her eyes on him.
She nodded. “Like your mom. Did Renata give you a way to contact her? A phone number?”
“How would she get a phone?”
“She could have picked up a burner. Or borrowed a phone from a friend. She apparently took a good sum of money with her when she left.”
Gabriel was shocked that Renata would have stolen from her foster parents. That was silly, though. He knew that she had stolen the backpack and formula, and whatever other clothes and sundries were in the backpack. Those were necessities. And the formula was hers; no one else would use it when she was gone. But stealing cash too seemed wrong.
“I didn’t know she was going to run away. She didn’t give me a number.”
“Did she say where she was going to sleep tonight? Or where she was headed?”
Gabriel shook his head. “She wouldn’t tell me anything.”
“DFS is quite concerned about her. She has serious medical problems. And I gather from what they said… she could be a danger to herself or others.”
“At the hospital, they said that she could get violent… but I never saw her act like that. I think… they just wanted me to stay away from her.”
Heather walked the rest of the way into the room. She sat down on Gabriel’s bed, looking at him intently. “We want to protect Renata. You need to tell me if you know anything. I know she wouldn’t want you to, but you have to think about what is best, not about what she thinks you should or shouldn’t do. You want the best for her, right?”
“She seemed like a really nice girl.” Heather smiled. “I can see why you like her so much. And she’s pretty cute too, huh?”
Gabriel’s face got hot. Sweat started to bead on his forehead. “We’re just friends. Nothing like that. Just friends.”
“That doesn’t stop a girl from being attractive. Or a boy from being attracted.”
Gabriel looked Heather square in the eye, ignoring how uncomfortable it was to do so. “I don’t know where Renata is. I’m sorry.”
“Okay.” Heather got up off of the bed. “Thanks. If you do hear from her again, let me know. We need to get her back where she’s safe.”
Gabriel turned back to his essay without answering.
“Gabriel!” There was a squeal, followed by a thump on the mattress that made Gabriel jump, followed by a heavy mass landing in the middle of his chest. It was Josiah. Gabriel turned over, tumbling Josiah off of him, onto the bed.
Gabriel rubbed his eyes. “What are you doing here?”
Gabriel gave him a thumbs-up. “Yay. No school.”
“Come watch TV with me!”
The previous Saturday, Gabriel hadn’t been feeling well in the early morning and Josiah had recruited him as he came out of the bathroom. They had lain in front of the TV with blankets around them, eating sugary cereal, until almost noon.
“I was going to sleep longer. I’m still tired.”
“No! Come watch cartoons!”
“Shut up!” Collin growled. He fished around beside the bed to grab one of his humongous shoes, and barely opening his eyes, fired it in Josiah’s direction.
It hit the back of Josiah’s neck, and he yelped. “Hey! Ow! Don’t throw things!”
“Then don’t wake me up. Get lost.”
“Don’t throw things at me!” Josiah challenged, not backing down.
Gabriel ruffled Josiah’s head. “Did you already get your blanket?”
Josiah’s eyes brightened, and he was instantly distracted from the futile argument with Collin. “Yeah. And I got the breakfas’ out. Come and watch!”
Gabriel got up, pulling his blanket off of the bed and wrapping it around him like a robe. Josiah jumped down and hopped around. Collin watched them go with a baleful eye. Even though he seemed angry, Gabriel wondered whether secretly he wanted to be invited to join them. But he was too old and proud to ask to join them.
Gabriel was nearly comatose when Heather shuffled into the room, a bathrobe on, baby Alex in one arm and her phone in her opposite hand. “Phone call for you, Gabriel.”
She handed him the phone, looking curious. Gabriel half-expected it to be Renata. Maybe she had bought a burner phone. And somehow got Heather’s cell phone number. But it wasn’t Renata. It was a cultured, older woman’s voice that he couldn’t place. A doctor or nurse from the clinic? A social worker or someone else involved with his case?
“Is this Mr. Gabriel Tate?” she asked formally.
“Uh, yeah. I mean yes. This is Gabriel.”
“Gabriel, my name is Judge Deidre Whittaker. They call me Judge Dee-Dee. I realize that you don’t know me, but I wanted to have a chat with you…”
“I understand that you are friends with a young lady named Renata Vega.”
“I heard a case involving Miss Vega some months ago… and I’ve been following her progress. Since your paths crossed, I’ve also looked into the details of your case and those of a couple of her other friends.”
“You heard Renata’s case? Custody?”
“No… it was actually her mother’s case. Elena. I don’t know if Renata told you about it?”
“You sent her to prison?”
The woman sighed. “Yes. As much as I would have liked to render a different judgment… I have to follow the dictates of the law. And there’s no denying that Elena resisted arrest. When the police come into your home… even if you don’t think that they have any right to be there, you can’t assault an officer of the law. You can’t interfere with the perfo
“Renata didn’t tell me much about what happened.”
“It’s on the public record… When the police came into her home to take Renata into custody, Elena tried to physically prevent them. As well as verbal assaults. She was a very angry woman. She didn’t believe that they had any right to come into her home. No cause.” There was a pause, and Gabriel didn’t know if he was supposed to ask her something else. But then she went on again. “As it turns out, she was correct. They didn’t have a warrant or just cause to enter the house. They were wrong to physically force their way into the home and lay hands on Renata.”
“But you still sent her mother to jail.”
“Elena chose to assault the officers rather than pursuing legal channels. I didn’t really have any choice.”
Gabriel let that sink in. He thought about Renata at home with her mother. The police coming to their door and then forcing their way in. Of course, Elena had fought back. What else would she have done? But the image of Renata at home with her mother didn’t quite square with what he knew about Renata’s history or what Renata had told him.
“I thought that Renata has been in foster care for years,” he said. “But you just took her away a few months ago?”
“I didn’t take her away. That was handled by another judge. I only heard her mother’s case. Yes, Renata has been in foster care a number of times. Bounced back and forth between living with her mother or foster care or the hospital. Very disruptive for a child, I can’t imagine it did anything for her mental health.”
“Oh. I guess that makes sense.”
“Word has it that Renata has run away again.”
“Yeah, my foster mom told me. But I told her, I don’t know where Renata is staying or where she is planning to go.”
“She did come and see you.”
“For a few minutes, yes. But I don’t know where she is right now.”
“Well, I hope that if you find anything out, you will report it. I wouldn’t want to see Miss Vega get hurt.”
“I don’t know where she is,” Gabriel repeated.
“Okay, Gabriel. Thank you for taking my call—”
There was silence for a moment, and Gabriel wondered if she had already been pushing the end button on her phone and he was too late.
“You said that you looked up my case when you heard that Renata and I were friends.”
“Yes, I did. As much as I believe I did what was required by law by putting her mother in prison, I also feel like it gives me some responsibility in making sure that Renata is kept safe… I like to know who she is associating with.” She hesitated. “You seem like a nice young man. I’m glad that the two of you connected.”
He didn’t really want to know her opinion of him as a friend of Renata’s. “I wanted to know what you think of my case.”
She made a noise that indicated she was thinking about it. A sort of a low hum. “I am sorry that this has happened to you, Gabriel. It must be very confusing.”
“It was to start with. Now… I’m starting to get it.”
She said nothing.
“Do you think they’ll ever return me to my mom?”
“You shouldn’t give up hope. Your mother seems to be very devoted. That works in her favor.”
“But DFS and the doctors have built a pretty good case for medical abuse or negligence. If a judge is to believe the evidence…”
“Would you believe it, if you heard the case?”
“I don’t know, Gabriel. I’d like to think that I would hear everybody out and be able to tease out the truth… But it isn’t as easy as it sounds. And if you have any doubt, you have to err on the side of protecting the child.”
“So you wouldn’t send me back to my mom. Ever.”
“I would want to make sure that you were safe and given the best care possible.”
“What if my mom promised to take me to the mito clinic and follow the protocols? What if we said we’d do everything the doctors asked?”
“Gabriel…” She sighed a long, drawn-out breath of air. “You’re almost sixteen. In two years, you’ll age out of foster care, and you’ll be able to decide for yourself what you want. Hopefully, by that time, you’ll have a better picture of your mom as a whole person and be able to make your own medical choices.”
In two years. Gabriel looked at the puddle of pills that he had laid out on the side table beside him to take when he was finished eating breakfast. Two more years of the protocol might just kill him.
“You think it’s right for the clinic to experiment on foster kids?”
Her voice was a notch or two cooler. “Medical research is necessary. And some people have no hope other than experimental treatments.”
“So that makes it okay to experiment on foster kids? Just like it was okay for the Nazis to experiment on the Jews in concentration camps? Medical research is necessary, so…” He couldn’t believe that he was using Renata’s line. But it just popped out. It wasn’t right to conduct experiments on children in custody. He knew it wasn’t, and Judge Dee-Dee knew it wasn’t, even if she was fudging her answer.
“I’m afraid I have a conference call I need to take now, Gabriel. Thank you for taking my call. And do let someone know if you hear from Renata again or have thoughts on where she might go.”
There was a click and the call ended. Gabriel looked down at the phone in his hand and the list of numbers on the screen. Recent calls. There were lots of calls with Matt Foegel. The DFS local office. The mito clinic. Dr. De Klerk. Judge Dreyer. They were all there, all the players. All within the last twenty-four hours.
Heather reappeared and put out her hand for the phone. Gabriel handed it to her and answered the question written on her face. “Just someone else wanting to know if I knew where Renata would go.”
“Is there anything happening with my case right now? Any hearings coming up? Visitations?” He tried to keep his teeth from clenching. “Any changes?”
“No. You already know the date of the next hearing. Nothing else is happening.”
Gabriel went for a walk.
Heather had raised her eyebrows at his announcement, but encouraged him with a smile. “By all means! Don’t go too far, though. Just around the block for the first time. Then I know where to find you if you don’t get back home.”
“I’ll stay close,” Gabriel agreed.
He walked down the sidewalk to the city sidewalk and looked left and right. He remembered arriving on that first day, how he couldn’t even make it that far. He had a lot more energy now, but he didn’t know whether that could be attributed to the medications from the clinic or just the fact that he was able to eat more and was back on the medications that had been working for him before his hospital stay. He wondered whether the hospital had intentionally made him sicker by withdrawing meds and food so that the results at the clinic would look more dramatic. It was a thought Renata would have approved.
Gabriel walked down to the corner of the block. It was farther than it looked. He wasn’t sure he was going to be able to walk all the way around the block. If a marathon runner could run dozens of miles, he should be able to push himself hard enough to get all the way around the block.
But that didn’t mean he couldn’t rest. Gabriel leaned up against the street light until his breathing was back to normal and then he started walking again. One step at a time, slow and measured. A steady pace. It didn’t matter how fast he went, as long as he could get all the way around. It was a marathon, not a sprint.
He looked up from his feet and the sidewalk, scanning for some sign of Renata. Was she really that close? Sleeping under a tree or on a park bench somewhere, mere steps from where she had last been seen? Surely DFS would be combing the nearby streets for her. She had more energy than Gabriel, but she wasn’t normal. Her energy was still
Gabriel didn’t see any sign of her, but kept walking. He reached the next corner. There was a bus stop where he could stop and rest. The second corner meant that he was almost halfway around the block. That was the point of no return. The point at which it became shorter to go on than to go back. He was proud of himself for getting that far. His legs were feeling stronger, even without his braces. Gabriel bent down and rubbed his calves, feeling for an increase in muscle size or hardness. But the muscles were still skinny and soft, barely discernible under his fingers.
“Hey, stranger. Which bus are you waiting for?”
He looked over as Renata sat down on the bench beside him. “Where did you come from?”
She smiled, leaned over, and gave him a peck on the cheek. “I told you I’d be around.”
“Where did you sleep?” He appraised her. She wasn’t dirty or wrinkled. She was wearing the same clothes as the day before, but they still looked good. She smelled faintly of cigarette smoke, but that was the only difference as far as he could tell. “Are you staying with someone?”
“If I told you, someone might worm it out of you,” Renata said. “Unless you’re ready to leave. Have you changed your mind?”
“I got a call about you,” Gabriel said, not answering.
“Yeah? Who called you?”
“Judge… I can’t remember her name. Dee…?”
“Judge Dee-Dee? She’s cool. Why would she call you?”
“Looking for you. Telling me that if I knew anything about where you were or where you were going, I should tell her.”
“She’s the one who put my mom in prison.” Renata’s voice was disconcertingly cheerful.
“That’s what she said.” Gabriel watched the street. “I asked her about my case.”
“What would she know about your case?”
“She said she’d been following it because I was friends with you.”
Renata frowned. “Oh? What did you ask her?”
“If they’d ever let me go back to my mom.”
Gabriel didn’t say anything. The bus drove up and pulled over, and Renata motioned for it to go on.
“So… what did she say?” Renata asked eventually.
She looked down, not saying anything. After a minute, she reached over and held his hand. She wove her fingers through his. “It’s a bit different when a judge tells you, huh?”
“She thinks that I should just wait for two years until I age out.” Gabriel sighed. “That’s a long time.”
“Yeah. So… what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
They sat in silence for a while longer. She knew it wasn’t the time to push him.
“I saw Dr. Seymour a few days ago,” Renata commented after a while.
“Dr. Seymour? What about?”
“What do you think? I’ve been at the feeding clinic for years.” She tapped the feeding tube under her shirt.
“Oh. Right. Well… what did she say?”
Renata looked at Gabriel and ran her thumb over the back of the hand that she was holding. He waited. She obviously wanted to tell him about it, or she wouldn’t have said anything. He didn’t know what to expect. Something about Renata? Or something about him? Whatever it was, it didn’t sound like good news.
“I was in the office waiting, you know? They always make you wait there. Must be ’cause it’s a weight clinic, huh?”
Gabriel smiled tolerantly at the pun, waiting for her to get to the point.
“Dr. Seymour was talking to someone in the next room, and I could hear, so I was listening in… It was your favorite nurse.”
“Yeah. They were really getting loud. Probably everyone in the clinic could hear them, or at least tell there was a fight going on.”
“What was it about?”
“Bit—Birch was talking about seeing you at the mito clinic. Said that you were still losing weight, and maybe they should look at the herbs and supplements and diet that your mom had you on, to see if it would help.”
Gabriel was floored. He looked at Renata’s face in disbelief. “Birch thinks they should go back to what my mom was doing?”
“That’s what she was asking. How about that, huh?”
Gabriel shook his head. “Unbelievable. If they did that… they’d have to admit that my mom was doing the right thing, and not putting my health in danger, wouldn’t they? They have to admit that she didn’t do anything wrong, and send me back.”
“There’s still the Munchhausen and other stuff. They could still say that she should have put you in the mito clinic too.”
“I can’t believe it!” Gabriel’s heart was thumping so fast that it was making his head spin.
But Renata didn’t look happy. She looked away from him. “Dr. Seymour… didn’t agree.”
There had been a fight over it. Gabriel had forgotten about that part. And Dr. Seymour was way above a nurse in influence with the clinic or the court. “Of course not,” he growled. “She can’t admit that someone might know more than she does, or have a better idea about something.”
“She said that she’s pursuing charges against your mom. She doesn’t just want DFS looking into it and making recommendations. She wants criminal charges. She wants your mom sent to prison. No pleas or negotiation, hard prison time. She’s pissed that they haven’t done anything but investigate so far.”
Gabriel swallowed. “No.”
“Yeah. Sorry. I didn’t know whether I should say anything. You already know that she doesn’t want you to go back with your mom, so it’s not really news…”
“What’s wrong with that lady? What kind of person does that? She knows that my mom was trying to take care of me. Why is she doing this?”
“She’s always gunning for parents. I dunno. Maybe her parents were abusive.”
“So she’s made it her life’s mission to put everyone else’s in prison?” Gabriel snorted and shook his head in disgust.
“The ones that she thinks are abusive, yeah. I’ve seen it before. Doesn’t take much to set her off. She’s put a lot of kids into DFS’s hands.”
“Is she the one who reported your mom?”
Renata shrugged. “I dunno. Lotta people have, over the years. I’m underweight, always sick, have psych disorders… people tend to think it’s parental neglect.”
Gabriel pulled his hand out of Renata’s and held both hands over his face, trying to sort out all the emotions and facts. She sat beside him in silence. Gabriel thought about the phone numbers he had seen on Heather’s recent calls list. Had Dr. Seymour been on the list? Heather said that nothing was happening with his case, but had clearly been in communication with all the players. What if they were building the case against Keisha? Trying to marshal the evidence required to have her arrested and put in prison? Gabriel couldn’t bear it if she went to jail because of him. Because of his illness.
“I have to go,” he said finally. “I have to go home and talk to my mom. Make sure she knows what’s going on. She has to protect herself… maybe we should disappear together. Just take off, so no one can find us.”
Renata nodded. “So you’ll go with me?”
Gabriel’s stomach was a tight knot. His heart was racing. His head was thumping. He still had to walk all the way back to the Foegels to gather his things. And then they would begin their journey. He hoped that Renata had figured out the details because he had no idea what to do.
“Let’s do it.”
Mito, Medical Kidnap Files #1 by P.D. Workman / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4.8 out of 5 / Based on19 votes